Darwinian Institutionalism

Happy belated birthday to Charles Darwin, and happy belated bicentennial! Two hundred years ago, Charles Darwin wrote a less famous treatise on morality titled The Moral Sense of Man.

Most striking to me, from a political standpoint, are these lines: "As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races...as man gradually advanced in intellectual power...so would the standard of his morality rise higher and higher."

What Darwin argues in this treatise is that there are two types of moral instincts in men. The lower instinct is that which relates to self-preservation; this is the self-interest that Smith capitalized on (pun intended). The higher instinct is that which relates to man's care for his fellow man, his community, and to humanity. Darwin argues that a finer mind would lead to a more compassionate heart.

This is all very interesting from the standpoint of an educator: if you're training the "leaders of tomorrow," how do you help your students "advance in intellectual power" in a way that will rise their "standard of his morality higher and higher?" A later post will explore that.

From the international relations stand-point, Darwin's prediction that the march of civilization will be marked by increasing cooperation has been accurate thus far. While he was writing, the West practiced a very pure form of realpolitik - statecraft based solely on self-interest. We now associate our own self-preservation with the good of the human race or at least a large slice of it. The EU is a prime example of it.

Darwin's treatise can be seen as predicting international relations' shift from Realism to Institutionalism. Nations still act in self-interest -- still react to their lower instincts -- but are now much more aware of the larger community they are in (higher instincts). The UN and the growth of Institutionalist illustrates this movement. Nations still act in self-interest, but Darwin explains why nations are now much more concerned with acting moderately. It has less to do with morals as it has to do with nations finding affinity in a larger community. England, France, and Germany are much less nation-states than they are European (okay, maybe England is still Euroskeptic).

Darwin described the final ending of the process: "this point being reached [the point at which men find affinity with men of their own nations and eventually men outside of their nation] there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races." We have not quite reached the final point where men see themselves as human first, European second, and English finally. We are at least at the point where many see themselves as Europeans first, and German second.

Darwin's treatise, if accurate, predicts the change Realist politics must undergo. Realism will, as this blog has argued many times before, adapt to the progress of civilization to identify self-interest with the collective interest of nations in its region. If Darwin is right, then it is a matter of time and progress until the collective interests of nations in one region extend to half the globe, and eventually the globe in its entirety. That point is faraway.

Yet, in the face of global warming and global terrorism, self-interest demands cooperation and demands extending affinity and sympathy to others. As self-interest expands to include others and is forced to repeat the process again and again, Darwin will find himself vindicated on this moral front.

Look forward, later, to a post on how Darwin might be applied in education. The education of minds as a way of improving one's heart is a fascinating topic, and one that Free Exchange intends to explore.

Check out my blog: http://free-exchange.livejournal.com. Lev invited me to Isocracy, and this is my first post. I look forward to corresponding with everyone on this site!

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Comments

The practical questions which arise from this more abstract post are many which is why I asked you to submit it here.

On the one hand, support for local autonomy is a natural extension of recognising the universal right to self-governance (and, of course, self-preservation, as elucidated above). On the other, the establishment of universal rights as universals often requires imposition over local prejudices - and can be contrary to realpolitik; the recent decision to allow the imposition of Sharia Law in the Swat Valley in Pakistan is a case in point.

Similar comments can be made on the "right of nations to self-determination". Lenin argued that "it would be wrong to interpret the right to self-determination as meaning anything but the right to existence as a separate state", a fact dutifully ignored by governments claiming that they follow Lenin's principles. On the same topic, the right to national self-determination is no excuse for an autocratic and totalitarian regimes to abuse of universal rights.

There are also technological issues as well. Hannah Arendt once remarked that the establishment of a Jewish state of Israel was happening at exactly the wrong time as technology and history was moving to a point where context-bound nationalities would increasingly become a thing of the past. Sensitivity to such technological changes can also be found in Bertrand Russell's Icarus and especially the highly controversial (but increasingly accurate) Marriage and Morals. The tendency toward financial globalisation is as much driven by technological capacity as with anything else.

Identification of self-interest with collective interest is therefore something which can only grow freely when self-interest is allowed in the first instance. The moral institutions which promote universal rights must be strengthened are must be increasingly bound to international governance. We may in particular raise the concerns of how such universal claims are being undermined by sectional interests.

Darwin's treatise, if accurate, predicts the change Realist politics must undergo. Realism will, as this blog has argued many times before, adapt to the progress of civilization to identify self-interest with the collective interest of nations in its region. If Darwin is right, then it is a matter of time and progress until the collective interests of nations in one region extend to half the globe, and eventually the globe in its entirety. That point is faraway.